In 2010 Chile garnered the attention and gained the respect of the world. It suffered a devastating earthquake and the massively covered mining accident that left 30 miners trapped underground, as well as a return to a right-wing government. Being here one can but admire the 'keep calm and carry on' attitude that Chileans have towards the lives they lead and the environment in which they lead them.
Chile is a distinct country in so many ways. Different from the rest of the world, but also very different from the other countries of Latin America. Talking it over with a work colleague called N he pointed out to me how naturally inaccessible Chile is- to one side the endless pacific, to the other the almost insurmountable Andes, to the south punishing Antarctica and to the north, Atacama, the driest desert on earth. Have these circumstances caused Chile to develop the independence and self-sufficiency that is in many ways makes it so distinct to its Latin neighbours?
Geography aside Chile has also suffered one of the bloodiest dictatorships of Latin America, and consequently one of the most famous in the history of the world. The almost 20 years under (the US backed) General Pinochet ushered in neoliberal reform and saw the mass oppression, repression and at times, violation and murder, of the people and their most basic human rights. Moreover, Pinochet and many of his henchmen were never brought to trial, let alone justice, and were allowed to die peacefully, not even in exile. On the "compassionate" grounds of the UK courts. Nice one, Britain.
Yet to speak to those who lived through the brunt of those 20 years, you would think they were telling you about a story they had read in the paper long ago, or something that had happened to a friend of a friend of a friend. They are not reticent, nor blazé, but rather exhibit such a clarity of mind, such a singular understanding and such a strength to carry on despite having been subjected to years of oppression and terror beyond what most of us could conceive as surmountable.
They display the same stoic resistance towards the very earth that seems to punish them. There is something terrible and fearful about an earthquake. Beyond all that it damages, destroys and engenders. Hurricanes and Cyclones are terrible, but they are dangers that come from outside, from the exterior, and strike the very same chord of fear in us humans that keeps us going to movies about Alien Invasions and other exterior threats. Droughts as well, are caused by the absence of an exterior agent, and can be outrun and, if lucky, outpaced.
But there is something truly formidable about the very earth upon which you stand; upon which you have built your houses and planted your crops; throwing up great heat and motion and rejecting you from it's very surface. It cannot be outrun. It cannot be outpaced. Until we learn to fly there is truly no escape. We remain subject to the earth's caprices. And caprices it has many.
And yet Chile remains- damaged in places but unbroken, conscious of the danger but unfazed. Many criticize the previous government for not rejecting many of the policies put in place by the dictatorship, just as many criticize the current government for delays in reconstructions in the wake of the 2010 earthquake. But Chile truly remains a nation to be admired.